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Friday, August 22
 
Buckeyes need Clarett against NC State, Wisconsin

By Kirk Herbstreit
Special to ESPN.com

The news that Maurice Clarett is facing a multi-game suspension should not devastate the Ohio State coaches and players because they have prepared during fall practice without him.

While fans and the media may be shocked, the team was ready mentally for Friday's turn of events. Those within the program probably expected Clarett to miss the first couple of games. The Buckeyes certainly are not thinking to themselves, "Uh-oh, what do we do now?"

However, should his absence extend signficantly longer, the Ohio State community may be taken by surprise.

For now, they will go to battle with Lydell Ross, Maurice Hall and Ira Guilford. Ross and Hall showed during Clarett's injury woes last year that they are capable of picking up the ball and carrying the load, so the running game should be fine against Washington and San Diego State in the first two weeks.

This situation is softened, too, in that the team already has three weeks of practice without Clarett in the huddle. It is not something unexpected and uncertain like a shoulder stinger. Clarett's absence the last few weeks has given everyone else on the offense an opportunity to step up.

Even so, the team will lose Clarett's ability to make big plays and electrify the huddle and the crowd with his energy. He is an extremely competitive player, and when he is taken out of the mix the Buckeyes lose a potential burst of energy.

The biggest difference, though, is that last year's team had the luxuries of one of the best defenses in the country, great special teams play and a schedule that included eight home games. The Buckeyes could afford to be very conservative on offense, and Clarett's absence didn't hurt their chances because they could always fall back on the D and the kicking game.

A year later the defense is unproven, having lost its leaders in middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm and safeties Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey. All were four-year starters, and that missing element is going to be a huge difference on that side of the ball.

For the short term, Clarett's absence is manageable.

The opener against Washington will be under the lights, and the energy of a crowd eager for another national championship celebration coupled with questions about Ohio State's ability to win without Clarett will have the Buckeyes ready to go. San Diego State then comes to Columbus and should not be much of an obstacle.

But if Clarett is still under suspension when North Carolina State and its high-powered offense come to town on Sept. 13, the Buckeyes will feel his absence.

In other words, the length of the suspension is not as important as the games Clarett misses. Ohio State will definitely need his services in the NC State game and for the Oct. 11 trip to Wisconsin, and a Nov. 1 date with Penn State in Happy Valley will not be a cakewalk if Clarett is out of the lineup.

The Buckeyes are not scrambling right now. But without Clarett's services, those opponents -- which all feature good offenses -- become much more daunting.

Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN College GameDay and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.





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